The tone of this year’s WordCamp U.S. was certainly different from previous years due to the controversy around the release of WordPress 5.0. But, there were definitely bright spots and super takeaways too.
Get the skinny on what I gleaned from the sessions to empower DIY site owners and webmasters and prepare us for what’s coming next.
This year, due to financial constraints with a recent home purchase, I chose to attend WordCamp U.S. via livestreams.
I am grateful to the sponsors of WordCamp U.S. that made it possible for me to have a free livestream ticket to all sessions.
But, due to what I heard in the sessions this year, I’d like to plant the seed for WordPress to consider charging for livestream tickets to help offset the cost, and so we are not beholding to the corporate sponsors so much. Perhaps consider allowing more of the community to directly support the WordPress Foundation efforts with those livestream tickets.
Sessions I Attended
While major WordCamps have historically been a gathering of developers, and overwhelmingly male, I’m delighted to report that WordPress has continued to be proactive with outreach to invite women and non-developer speakers. And there was a nice diversification of session topics as well.
Below are the sessions I attended, followed by my takeaways from the ones I found most impactful and interesting, which are marked with an * in the title.
- * Content Security Policies: List Your Trusted Sources and Prevent Attacks by Miriam Schwab
- The Future of WordPress is Gutenberg by Gary Pendergast
- * Curating Content to Serve Your Community by Kelly McCausey
- The Proper Care, Growth and Feeding of Your WordPress Website in 2019 by Adam Silver
- * Moving the Web Forward with WordPress by Morten Rand-Hendriksen
- * Thrive for the Future: The Business of Open Source by Joost de Valk and Marieke van de Rakt
- * Secrets to Being a Great Marketer by Tina Wells
- * Nobody Wants a Website. They Want Results! by Dwayne McDaniel
- The Evolution ad Future of Publishing by Alexis Lloyd
- * State of the Work by Matt Mullenweg
Content Security Policies
CSPs have been a much overlooked area of cyber security. But with the recent edict from Google that all sites should be converted to HTTPS, more attention is finally being paid to the security headers that should accompany use of that secure transport layer.
Proper CSPs are something I teach in Level 3 of my Webmaster Training course. So, I was particularly interested in this session.
Miriam Schwab has been involved with WordPress since 2007 and certainly knows a thing or two about CSPs.
First, I was delighted that her session confirmed that my research on CSPs was spot on.
In other words, what I teach webmasters, and how I do HTTPS conversions for clients is WAY ahead of the curve on this front. We are already years ahead of what will become future requirements for better cyber security.
Miriam spoke in detail about the growing OWASP attacks, especially the most common security issues plaguing plugins, which is XSS, or Cross Site Scripting.
And this is exactly why I’ve been advocating for site owners to get on the Pro Cloudflare plan. Their recent additions to OWASP security, under the WAF protection, help us bridge those XSS vulnerabilities until plugin devs can release a patch.
Miriam also confirmed that up-to-date information about CSPs is hard to come by. No kidding!!! And, website adoption rates of CSPs are still pretty low, but that is changing.
I was keenly interested in the new dynamic CSP method being created by Google. It most definitely offers better security, but due to the dynamic nature on every page load, it doesn’t play well with caching. And that impacts page load speed. But it is definitely something I’ll be keeping my eye on for the future as CSPs continue to evolve.
And, you better believe I’ll be reaching out to Miriam on this topic in the future.
Curating Content to Serve Your Community
Kelly McCausey lead a super fun and inspiring session about how she became THE resource for her community by simply curating content on her site.
She highlighted the common mistake of only sharing your interesting finds on social media.
By placing those resources on your blog or podcast, YOU become the resource and the one who folks want to follow.
I do much the same with my weekly Tips Tuesday post, podcast, and livestream. It’s full of the site success tips and news that DIY site owners need.
I picked up some new ideas for curation from Kelly’s session that will help me in my new woodworking venture too.
Moving the Web Forward with WordPress
Morten Rand-Hendriksen is quickly becoming my hero in the WordPress community. I totally vibe with his take and vision on the internet and for WordPress in particular.
If you don’t know Morten, he’s been using and teaching WordPress since around the time ground broke on it and he’s the senior staff author at the teaching hub, Lynda.com, which is now owned by LinkedIn.
But Morten also works outside of WordPress with several other site development platforms. He has a broader view, and in my opinion, a much clearer one, of the entire WordPress ecosystem.
I was keen to hear his session, especially in the wake of the abrupt release of WordPress 5.0 earlier this week, and his vehement disagreements with Matt Mullenweg on how WP should be run.
The session was not disappointing.
Instead of complaining again about the leadership structure of WordPress, or lack thereof, Morten has done something about it.
First, he gave us the historical perspective for his end point, which was that WordPress has grown into an entity that sets standards for the entire Web. Yet, it doesn’t have a representative at the table when major organizations like Google and W3C gather to make decisions about the Web.
His point is that WP needs a new organizational structure that includes leadership and a cabinet with a position akin to Secretary of State to represent WordPress at these global meetings.
And instead of him telling us what other cabinet positions need help in the areas of Accessibility, Privacy, and Open Governance, he brought onto the stage the folks who have been working diligently in those areas to speak to the support they need to get the job done, and more importantly, what’s at stake in those areas.
Morten also spoke about the guiding principles of WordPress, and that a primary objective is to democratize publishing.
Morten went beyond that to say we need to democratize the organization of WordPress – nearly to the point of electing its leaders, and definitely to the point of more transparency and a hierarchal structure of communication for all the decisions being made and who makes them.
Basically, what Morten is saying is that WordPress must become an organization with a defined top-down structure and a clear set of goals and agenda so that it can properly take its place as a leader in creating what the future Web will become.
He suggests following the models already created by other organizations for open governance. WordPress doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel on this. It also doesn’t mean developing in isolation or inventing isolating ways to do things, much like Google so often does.
Morten’s solution – the WordPress Governance Project.
And we can all participate!
They have a special Google form where you can sign up to stay informed when the project kicks off in January 2019.
But, this wasn’t the end of Morten’s discussion on the matter, and we’ll get to that later in Matt’s State of the Word address.
Thrive for the Future: The Business of Open Source
Joost de Valk (of Yoast SEO) and his business partner Marieke van de Rakt gave a presentation that was a nice follow up to Morten’s session.
The first part of the presentation was about the history of Joost starting his business in the attic of his home with a free plugin and how it has turned into a $10M/yr company using a freemium model. He highlighted multiple other companies who have achieved the same.
But their talk, and especially the questions afterward, evolved into a discussion about open governance and the extreme need for better communication from the WordPress leadership.
That communication should include a publicly published roadmap and a new layer of leadership where all teams report in and decisions are made with everyone knowing what everyone else is doing.
Joost also cited how much it cost his business to not have that roadmap. Essentially, they had to throw out half of the new coding they did for plugin upgrades because they didn’t hear about Gutenberg until 4-5 months after development had already started.
He specifically stated that the layer above the lead developers was the problem.
Their presentation also focused on giving back to the WordPress community at large at a rate of 5%. For them, that includes sponsoring developers to work exclusively on the WordPress code.
In other words, Team Yoast pays the developer’s salary, yet they work on WordPress, not Yoast products.
More on this corporate sponsorship in the State of the Word notes.
Another person asked about the 5% giving and that she had donated way more than that as a volunteer for WCUS.
Joost’s reply was that WordPress should, at the very least, give her a backlink to her site as a thank you.
In other words, she gave her time instead of money and yet had no representation like the big money sponsors. All she got was a generic group thank you to the 200+ volunteers during Matt’s keynote.
Secrets to Being a Great Marketer
Tina Wells, of Buzz Marketing Group was a breath of fresh air from the usual WP dev presentations.
Her session was fun and full of energy and it made me want to hire her. And I think that just drives home the points that she made during the presentation. People buy feelings, not products. They buy relationships, not services.
She also highlighted why it is so vitally important to follow emerging trends. She gave examples of the companies that failed to do so and are no longer with us – like Blockbuster missing the opportunity to become a Netflix service. And those who ignored the needs of Millennials back when they became a consumer group, and especially now, as they become new business owners. I can personally attest to how eye opening, and profitable it has been for me to market directly to that demographic!!
I looked up her site and was inspired by her blog. She is most definitely not on a blogging hamster wheel to get clients for her service based business. And you better believe I started following her to get inspired for marketing BlogAid better!!!
Nobody Wants a Website. They Want Results!
All webmasters and designers should get to know Dwayne McDaniel from Pantheon.
His session was all about the intake funnel for new clients.
If you don’t know what KPI is, look it up. This is his guiding principle with new clients.
He also had a list of questions to ask right up front that helps everyone set realistic expectations and avoid scope creep.
State of the Word
I’m sure Matt Mullenweg is used to a lot of applause during his keynote addresses. There sure wasn’t much during this one.
He started by stating the guiding principles of WordPress, including what democratization means. He chose to define that as everyone can use WordPress regardless of “language, device, physical ability, income, location, or technical proficiency.”
He completely skirted democratization in leadership.
In fact, he skirted so many key issues in both his address and the questions that followed that I think he should seriously consider running for Congress.
He then showed a series of user testing of the classic WordPress editor that has been with us for a decade. Afterward he flew through doing the same type of posting in Gutenberg.
What I wish to heck he would have shown is new user testing of Gutenberg!!!
No way will someone seeing it for the first time figure it out without training.
That was followed by some of the cool Blocks the community developers have created. And they are truly cool!!!
Another cool feature is the ability to copy/paste directly from a 3rd party writing platform like Google docs, including all the fancy formatting you can throw at it. I’m especially looking forward to using that one myself!
Matt also revealed that publishing in WordPress via mobile with Gutenberg is the next major project they will begin tackling in 2019.
And he later gave a preview of Gutenberg Phase 2 that will include bringing Blocks to widgets.
That will open the door for Gutenberg Phases 3 and 4 when WordPress will likely be dubbed a full theme builder.
Historically, another feature of Matt’s keynotes at WCUS is an overview of how much good the WordPress Foundation is putting into the world. Via the do_action project, 12 charitable organizations had an online presence created for them for free this past year.
The Foundation was also able to donate $30k to organizations such as Internet Archive, Girl Develop It, and Black Girls Code.
But, he followed that by saying donations are way down to $3k and they will not be able to make that level of donation next year.
To me, this speaks volumes about the lack of communication from WordPress to the wider community – beyond devs.
There are literally millions of WP site owners. Where is the mass appeal to them to give even $1 to the WordPress Foundation? These site owners never attend WordCamps. Most don’t even know if they have a WordPress MeetUp in their city.
Why isn’t WordPress making better efforts to engage end users?
There were only a few moments of applause during the address. Those came when Matt thanked all of the volunteers who help developed WordPress 5.0 and for the corporate sponsorship.
There was no applause for the 8k+ commits they worked on.
But there was applause for raising the minimum PHP requirement from 5.6 to 7.0.
Are you kidding me?
Support for PHP 7.0 will drop on Dec 31, 2018. Is Matt so out of touch that he doesn’t know that and to raise the minimum to at least something that is supported?
Matt also mentioned that during the early development of Gutenberg, some folks chose to use the star rating system on the plugin to voice their opinion by giving a one star rating.
He also complained that folks left long opinions in the dev chat. (Some of the devs complained about that too.)
After the address, there was a question about where folks should voice their opinions.
Matt skillfully skirted the question by suggesting that maybe we need to bring something like BuddyPress back. In other words, not anywhere that the team leads or devs have to deal with daily.
There were also questions about the future of themes. Nobody point blank asked about current theme builders by name. All Matt said was that they would have a way for current themes to opt into using Blocks for everything.
He also said that he didn’t see the need for there to be 10k-20k themes in the future, like we have now.
Read that again.
- What the heck does Matt think is about to happen to the current theme ecosystem over this?
- Where is the clear roadmap for those designers and developers?
- What exactly should they prepare for now to ensure that their business doesn’t take the same financial hit that Yoast did with having to essentially throw out 4 months of coding because they didn’t know what was coming down the pike?
Another question was asked concerning the transparency of the release of WP 5.0 and how they should do better communication going forward. The major concern was the fact that Automattic’s employees did the release posts.
Matt’s response was that they had a large team of release leads for 5.0, which was something different from previous releases. And that it was appropriate for the paid Automattic staff to do those publications. Matt did the final target date release post himself, so he could take full responsibility for it.
Okay, fine. But I don’t think he really answered the question, or addressed the intent of having to ask such a thing.
Keep in mind that all of these folks were chosen by Matt, not the community.
And then the big question – it came from Morten Hendriksen – who point blank asked Matt who the “we” was that he referenced all the time – as if a group of people made decisions on behalf of the community in a transparent way, and in a way that represented the needs and opinions of the community.
Again, Matt skirted the question like a seasoned politician.
But the one fact that he could not escape about the WP 5.0 release was that the discussion and the decisions were made by the release leads he chose, and in a closed door session.
That is not democratization of the community.
That is top down leadership like a corporation.
Don’t get me wrong.
I don’t have an issue with the way the decision was made.
I have an issue with the illusion that Open Source software is developed and released in an open community, led by that community.
Here’s another case in point of how community-disengaged WordPress has become and how it is more like the government.
Another private developer asked how she could get involved without being sponsored by a corporation. She is a solopreneur and cannot afford to devote the coding time to WordPress without some type of sponsorship.
Matt’s answer was that WordPress depends on that corporate sponsorship. If WordPress had to hire those developers then they would have to pay for HR and insurance and all the things that come with having employees.
WordPress is as bought and paid for as a Congressman is by lobbyist.
Bottom line – there is no place for an independent developer at the table.
What Democratization Means to Me
The inclusiveness of community via democratization of WordPress was certainly a leading theme at WCUS 2018.
And yet I couldn’t help thinking about who was completely left out of the conversation by everyone.
There is zero representation of WordPress end users.
Sure, WordPress powers 32.5% of the Web.
That does not represent the millions upon millions of site owners who are not in the top 10% of Alexa rankings.
Who is speaking on their behalf?
I’m talking about folks like me and my clients.
I’m a solopreneur.
My clients are mostly craft/food/lifestyle bloggers and other small business owners and solopreneurs.
We’re all trying to scratch out a modest living using WordPress because it is simply the best platform for our needs, as far as the SEO and ads and integrations with optins and such.
We didn’t choose WordPress because it’s easy to use or cheap to maintain.
And nothing about Gutenberg is going to change that for us.
We, the end users, are at the mercy of corporate sponsored leadership that is completely out of touch with the majority of the people it serves.
Yeah, I can hear folks say – well, MaAnna, why don’t you get involved and come up with a solution?
I tried that.
At last year’s WCUS there was an invitation to join a “committee” devoted to outreach for women in tech.
After attending a few sessions it was perfectly clear that it would take 10 sessions to even decide what they were going to have as a specific goal.
Who has time for that? Decision by committee with no clear leadership and trying to please everyone often goes nowhere fast.
I volunteered for every size of organization you can imagine for 25+ years straight. I know when one is not a good fit for me, or will likely never make it out of Phase 1. I left.
And I haven’t heard a thing about it since.
If they ever reached a decision on that goal, it certainly wasn’t widely publicized.
And I have given way more than 5% of my billable hour time to help get my peeps through this WP 5.0 update and Gutenberg. I honestly can’t afford to donate more.
WordPress also issues surveys. Have you ever seen one? Most site owners haven’t.
And it’s super clear that WordPress is well aware of that in the questions they ask in those surveys, as they are clearly geared toward developers and enterprise level site owners.
I truly get the distinct impression that WordPress is by and for devs, not the end users unless they are corporations. That’s where the money is. The money is also in corporate sponsorship. They make their big bucks off those same little end users. Just take a look at the Diamond sponsors of the WCUS event. Most are hosts.
I hope Morten’s project helps democratize the WordPress leadership.
I hope the bad taste in everyone’s mouth about how WP 5.0 was rammed through and released in an untimely manner helps reshape the leadership structure.
But I have no hope that you and I and the millions of other solopreneurs and small business owners will ever have our voices heard nor issues addressed by the WordPress leadership.
My online business is based on helping you be successful with your online business no matter what comes down the pike with WordPress or anything attached to it.
All this means that I’m going to start looking at WordPress the way I look at other corporations like Microsoft and Apple.
I don’t feel like I’m part of their community. I need what they produce, but I have no say in what that is. I’m just an end user and I take it as it comes and make the most of it.
My community is you – the end user, the site owner. And I am listening to you and addressing your needs directly.